Fable: The Journey and Molyneux's Lionhead legacy

Peter Molyneux may be officially out of the picture, but Fable: The Journey is unmistakably his flight of fancy.

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When Peter Molyneux quit Lionhead and Microsoft in March, the move fit the general pattern of his illustrious and intermittently controversial career. He founded Bullfrog in 1987, sold it to Electronic Arts in 1995, and left in 1997 to found Lionhead. Lionhead was sold to Microsoft in 2006, and now Molyneux turns his attention to 22 Cans, a fresh independent venture.

The way folks at Lionhead tell it, then, Peter Molyneux's departure was no great surprise. "I've worked with Peter for 23 years," says Gary Carr, creative director. "I knew at some point he'd want to go and do something different. I think he wants to try some new things." Nor was it an upheaval for Fable: The Journey, they say, with most of the design work completed before he left for pastures new.

"He obviously had a big influence on The Journey and continues to have a big influence on The Journey because he's still here as a consultant," says Ben Brooks, senior scripter on Molyneux's final Lionhead project. "The kind of thing he's doing now as a consultant, reviewing the game and providing feedback, is exactly what Peter would be doing at this stage of any Fable game."

The Spire: your sinister final destination.

At the same time, you wonder if everyone doesn't also breathe a little easier without Molyneux on hand at media gatherings, where the assembled press are wont to take as ironclad promises what turn out to have been just ambitious musings. The pledge that emotion in your voice will modify the magic spells you cast with Kinect hand gestures, for instance, which gets nary a mention in our recent visit to Lionhead's Guildford studio. Or those emphatic assurances that Fable: The Journey is not, by any means, on rails.

Time in the game is divided between sections spent steering a horse-drawn cart and sections on foot which are, in all reasonable definitions of "on rails", on rails. It is a blow to those who hopefully expected freedom of movement to be added at a later date, as suggested by Molyneux in the game's previous showings, but is not, or shouldn't be, an automatic death blow to Fable: The Journey. It's just another way in which The Journey is, mechanically speaking, poles apart from any Fable title before it.

Where Fables I through III were free-roaming, open world adventures, The Journey is a journey: a linear, cross-country jaunt towards The Spire, the mystical edifice established in previous games. Where earlier Fables emphasised individually customised hero characters, The Journey gives us a fully defined hero in Gabriel, the gypsy-like youth at the reigns of its horse-drawn transport. Where the last game's endearing animal companion was a dog, The Journey's is Seren, the glossy shire horse tethered to Gabriel's cart. And all of it is drawn in a first-person view, not a third-person view, as best suits the key difference between this game and other Fables: Kinect.

There's no place for the traditional controller in Fable: The Journey. This is a pure Kinect game, built wholly around the Xbox's controller-free system. Its development roots at Lionhead mingle with those of Project Milo, the interactive virtual boy unveiled at Kinect's E3 public debut in 2009, destined never to grow beyond a tech demo--one sequence we play involves leaning over a magical pool, ruffling its surface with outstretched hands, not unlike the pool in the Milo demo.

Thankfully, this "nine- or ten-hour" all-Kinect game is played sitting, with the horse-drawn sequences controlled by tugging left or right on the reigns, cracking both to accelerate, or pulling them up and back to halt. The on-foot action means using each hand to cast spells that include a fireball, a force push, and a blade-summoning number Fable fans will recognise from previous instalments.

Some first-person spellcasting.

The Kinect controls work decently, although the game is also forgiving, generously intuiting the intent of less precise waving, at least in the early stages we sampled. However protected you feel, though, it is possible to die.

When Theresa (the blind psychic Fable fans will, again, recognise from previous instalments) stumbles onto the road near Gabriel, pursued by a nebulous dark force, he bundles her onto his cart's passenger seat. So begins one of the game's chase sequences, in which malevolent lava pours onto the path from either side, and you must guide Seren along the safe route through it. Seren's health bar is eaten away by collisions with the lava.

Elsewhere, she can also be damaged by being run at full speed over rocky patches, or stuck with enemy arrows. The latter can be extracted in the first-person horse care segments, in which Gabriel pulls over to tend to his horse's wounds.

Fable: The Journey benefits from its main means of player movement being a horse-drawn cart, in that Kinect lag or imprecision between gesture and reaction makes sense, mimicking as it does the less-than-instant, natural response of a horse. But it's not as though the controls fall apart away from Seren, in the cavern- and tunnel-based on-rails segments we played.

Both the spells unlocked in our demo, a magic missile and the force push, can be cast (with the expected pointing gesture) and then aftertouched towards a target, letting you curve magic around obstacles with a neat flick. Similarly, the force push can also be used like a magic leash for remotely manipulating scenery, tugging spiky stalactites down from the ceiling to squash bug-like beasties.

It's all worlds away from the free-roaming action role-playing long associated with the franchise, but there's an unmistakable Fable flavour to the rich, cartoony styling and quirky dialogue that will either delight franchise fans or frustrate those who wanted nothing more than a Fable IV. Studio head and co-founder Mark Webley insists the uniquely charming world of Albion, open or otherwise, is the true heart of Fable, along with the strong storytelling for which the series is known.

"You're actually seeing a lot more of the world of Albion than you typically would in a Fable game," says Webley. "While you don't have a big open world, we're creating big open spaces like Bower Lake and all around it. Here, you're seeing canyons, caves, different environments we've never shown players before. The fact we can drive people through them with our story is pretty cool."

That much is true; the way Seren and Gabriel are channelled along lakeside roads and through small settlements lets Lionhead for the first time give players a first-person guided tour through Albion. It's sensible, provable assertions like these we can expect from the Guildford studio, now that Molyneux has moved on, even if The Journey is still clearly a Molyneux flight of fancy. There are Molyneux ambitions stamped all over it--as a long-form, story-based, all-Kinect game that overturns the mechanics of a bestselling franchise to find its own way.

Gary Carr tells us he expects Lionhead and 22 Cans, Molyneux's new venture, to co-exist in a state of "friendly rivalry", and that Lionhead aims for nothing less than its "next 15 years to be better than the last 15 years". And with Molyneux presently popping in once a week in his consultant role, his presence is still very much felt. "He's only up the road, by the way," says Carr. "He's only three offices up there. He comes down, we still play football and go running, all those kinds of things."

Discussion

86 comments
Fartman7998
Fartman7998

I loved Fable: Lost Chapters.  Always will, since it's the best one.  But Fable 2 was great too!  I thought Fable 3 was awesome....I don't see why it's hated so much.  So they took some liberty with the franchise and tried to do something different, so what! 

I don't know.  I'm not even going to try and justify it.  I've loved every entry in the series so far, and I will be getting this one. 

Miss_Ocelot
Miss_Ocelot

Fable Lost Chapters is one of the best games in my opinion, but I also think they have deteriorated since then. Fable was a gift, how could they have got it so wrong as the series continued? I thought 2 was alright, but I thought the storyline had large gaps in it. Then in 3 where, I don't know about you guys, I was expecting a conclusion  to why Theresa wanted the tower in 2. Nope, your king now tho. So how could we truly hammer in the last nail? Hey guys let's forget the popular 'open world'  thing and go for the on rails, flailing your arms around in the air gimmick. Fable was a work of crazy genius, I also enjoyed the uniqueness of 'Black & White'. Original concepts that are so pleasing and humorous, but it seems that they have always struggled to keep the old pleasing concepts with new storyline and tec. The feeling of forced improvement only seems to weaken their efforts. Fable was effortless genius, 2 and 3 just feel like hard work. The original had Ideas and thoughts so detailed and engagng I couldn't help but put all my gaming faith into the contiunation of the series. Each time my hopes rise thinking 'This time they will do a proper job of it, they must have leant by their mistakes...'  My hopes are dashed each and every time. You only have to look at the difference between the gaming prices to tell how much a success Fable is still compared to it's disappointing predecessors. 

 

So now the founder of Fable has left there is no hope, the bloodline of ideas will be weaker than ever.

coolbeans1
coolbeans1

Did this get a review score? I don't seem to see it anywhere.

Fursnake
Fursnake

Aaaaaaaand quality takes a backseat to cashing in. If this thing is the 10 hour max on rails Kinect "experience" then I imagine it will totally be worth the $59.99 price tag. Really...

 

But I digress, I'm sure Moly left the franchise because it's ass kicking success was so overwhelming for him.

00J
00J

if you ask me, peter m. has always been a bit of an odd character in the game industry, i applaud him for thinking out side of the box and experimentation, but his ideas always seem so wild and unusual that they turn out to be only his idea of an interesting game concept. i always think a game should be made with the players interest in mind not a single designers strange desires. its kind of the way i can't stand any movie made by tim burton. i don't want to take a trip into his bizarre psyche do you? 

 

Kinect on the other hand was doomed from the start, i was against it and always will be against it. PC users are not going to use their computers with the motions of their body so why would game players want to? It will never be anything other than a shoddy gimmick and is a waste of money and R&D... I don't want to try to get up off of a chair and move around failing like an idiot, that's not the way games work. The most effort that will every be successful to games was the Arcade Machine era, where you would need to stand in front of an arcade cabinet for a few hours maybe but that was it.

Kmangamer
Kmangamer

Sad...that's all I have to say.

elbauto
elbauto

This is not a gameplay,come on!About the game,I'm really attracted by it.I think it's an interesting proposal  and I'm waiting ansiously for it.

pygmyschizoid
pygmyschizoid

Sad, sad way to put the franchise to an end. They could've ended it in glory, but chose the limbo of kinect games... can't  believe that will be any future for the series after this fancy(or not that much) endeavour on kinect. 

macca366
macca366

This could be the biggest surprise ever and turn out to be a fantastic experience, but even so, I don't think I'm off the mark in guessing it was always inevitably not going to sell, because its a kinect game

Talavaj
Talavaj

on rail rpg long 9 to 10 hours ? mother of god..

ScouseLemon
ScouseLemon

So the gamers who don't have the space requirements for Kinect or just don't buy into it, or the gamers who just like controller based games are basically told to do one. A bad move (pun intended) by the dev's me thinks. They'll lose a lot of sales by not implementing any form of options to use a controller.

joe_chebs
joe_chebs

Wow, so they really are pushing the Kinect hard with this then?! I always enjoyed the Fable series, granted, the third instalment was the weakest so far but I had fun none the less. Kinect though?! I can appreciate they want to make a title aimed at a new and younger generation rather than us old duffers who had Uni degrees (except me) when the first one came out but there is a lot to be had by remembering your fans. I'll be watching this sure but knowing just how hard they are forcing Kinect down my throat has already smacked more than enough nails in t he coffin, what a pity, I had such high aspirations here.

xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

While players of the first Fable are growing older and are getting smarter. more grumpier and pretentious in the process, Microsoft and Lionhead are turning this franchise into games for kids straight to a future casual hidden object installment. It is most probably to be called "Fable: Mysteries of Albion" or something like that. If this Kinekt is getting popular amongst children and people that like to fool around in front of a motion cam, is it worth (for us, not for them or the devs) ruining a series one game at a time? Can't they make other Kinekt IPs or is it that hard? Are we ever going to inhabit other planets or are we doomed?

Malama83
Malama83

I have only played Fable 1 among all the Fable games. So I still have a "good" feeling about the Fable series. So i guess I shouldn't play any of the others and ruin that feeling. Especially not this game =)

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

I am not sure why everyone is complaining, this is a side story, and nothing more, will it be as fun as the other fable games, no, sadly, but it seems like fable has been concerned with fun sense the first game if you ask me... I will give this a rent to be sure, and just to see what the game will be like, incase all of us are wrong...

newday_7
newday_7

the developers don't know a whole lot about their own series when they say "along with the strong storytelling for which the series is known." Fable was known for it's freedom not it's story telling. Sure it had a decent story, but the reason why people bought the first one was for the fact that you could essentially do and be anything that you wanted.  

Maxor127
Maxor127

The screenshots look better than the demo I saw.  It will still be a horrible game because it's a Kinect game.  If ends up being a good game and not a complete gimmick, I'll be surprised.

smiddy007
smiddy007

One thing comes to mind... eeewwwwwwwwwwww

shadow580
shadow580

Saw the word Kinect and I just knew.

FuryX-4
FuryX-4

R.I.PThe Fable series2004-2012What have they done to you? 

grimhope
grimhope

Another franchise Ruined by trying to appeal to the masses.  When will these companies learn that we want deep, substantial games, not dumbed down games that hold our hands and lead us every step of the way.  Sigh..........I miss you SNES.

maximo
maximo

I don't understand why this game is Kinect only. It makes no sense to cut out a whole chunk of the market for an experiment.

 

Cognus
Cognus

Damn, Fable 1 was such a great game. WTF happened? Each addition just made it worse and worse.

Tribesmaster
Tribesmaster

I promised myself I would never buy a fable game ever again, and I stick by that.

sircyrus
sircyrus

"At the same time, you wonder if everyone doesn't also breathe a little easier without Molyneux on hand at media gatherings..."[

 

Haha, absolutely. The guy has a lot of passion about games, and that passion is translated when he talks about what he envisions, but the final products tend to be underwhelming after his descriptions of what it *could* be like.

 

He's a bit like a kid talking about the clubhouse he's going to make. It'll be great, with a balcony, a swimming pool, and a rocket ship in the back! Then the reality is a repurposed wood shed with a stump dragged over to stand on, an inflatable pool, and a toy rocket inside.

lacee148
lacee148

That's how you ruin a great game... change the whole concept of the game just for a shitty peripheral. I love Dance Central, Your shape fitness but in other ways this hardware is useless. Oh, the voice control is cool but you "not" need a Kinect for that. The mic should do the work...

xXxIRyanxXx
xXxIRyanxXx

I don't get why they always make you have an animal sidekick because i do not care at all about what happens to it, give me a person that I might actually care about and want to take care of. The fact that it is on kinect makes this game that much more unappealing. 

lasersword
lasersword

I don't get it... I don't get it, I don't get it, I don't get it, and I don't get it. Though I've heard good things about the first Fable title, I haven't played ONE Fable game that was good. Not ONE. Played about 5 hours into the second: it sucked, so I stopped playing it and popped in something GOOD. Played the third one for about 5-8 hours: it sucked, so I stopped playing it and popped in something GOOD. I saw an advertisement for Fable Heroes, remembered how bad the Fable games were, and decided never to investigate what looked like a train-wreck of childish design; then I see that THIS makes news? I don't mean that in the very black-and-white context it comes off as. I simply mean, this peaks peoples interest? I sure am wasting a lot of time on what I think is a terrible, terrible, franchise. But, I love keeping up to date with what constitutes as news in the gaming world, and I love commenting on it (sometimes, just to understand what others are smoking lol).

 

Hundreds of hours of bad gameplay and underdeveloped story/characters help me decide that this isn't news. That I could care less about the next installment in an uninteresting and bland world with absolutely no memorable characters. Theresa seems to be the most memorable of the cast, and two hours into Fable 2 I wanted the game to be rid of her!

 

Fable: The Journey. Who cares? Honestly. Fable 4? really? Because I want ANOTHER bad game to play? Guys-- and girls --there are so many great games to play out there. Goeth! Goeth and discover REAL GOOD GAMES! I believe in you all! Till next time...

yoda101280
yoda101280

An "on rails" Kinect based game...I've bought all the Fables but I already can see i won't be getting this one.9

okassar
okassar

They better not mess up the spellcasting. That's the only part of the game that looks cool to me at this point. Other than that, tending to horse wounds? Lol.

nigelholden
nigelholden

I though KoA:R was an okay first IP.  I beat it, but wouldn't take it much past that.  It was one of those games that I really wanted to love but it felt so unbalanced half way through.  I beat it and enjoyed it, but I honestly can't recall much of the story today.  It felt like a single player MMO.  There was definitely potential for a 2nd entry, but as for an MMO, I doubt it.  MMO players are obsessed with balance and challenge progression, that's the developers didn't show that they understood that.  And with the ES MMO coming out, I doubt it would of been a financially success.  But a strong refinement  over their original game may very well have been awesome.  It's a shame we'll probably never see what could of been.  

fourclawrider
fourclawrider

 @Malama83 best leave it at that, though you could consider fable 2. It had alot more features, secrets, customizables, etc than the first one...however the story was crap and most missions were dull and even though some fights were tough there was (nearly) no punishment for dying: Not even a respawn to an earlier checkpoint, if you died you literally just got back up and no proces was lost. so fable 2 was more of a fun mess around game than a story-challenge game.

 

don't bother with 3: they got right about everything wrong with that one

Maxor127
Maxor127

I guess no edit anymore.  Just as I expected, the game is on rails.  Which is why Kinect will always be a gimmick.  The nature of the technology means you'll never have freedom of movement unless they add peripherals like an analog stick.  It was funny reading people's expectations for it, thinking they were going to be doing cool crap in Halo or Gears of War.  Nope... tacked on voice commands, on-rails fighting, and dancing games.

00J
00J

 @accesdenied 

yeah the Captain grounded that ship and abandoned. It's not the first time. Funny think is he's kind of like M. Shymalan Knight, he had a 1 or 2 good movies but they kept getting worse with every new idea, and Studios kept giving him money... Until they learn the painful lesson of not trying to back a 2 trick pony...

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

 @accesdenied A ship that he sank himself, with his bad ideas, and gameplay choices... but a sinking ship nonetheless...

FuryX-4
FuryX-4

*R.I.P The  Fable series: 2004-2012

maximo
maximo

 @Cognus  F2 was perfect for me. F3 was a huge disappointment.

shadow580
shadow580

 @lasersword play Fable 1, I enjoyed it a lot. I watched my friend play the second one and I was not impressed. Then I tried co-op with him in Fable 3 and it was terribly boring, the most uninteresting combat system ever invented.

nigelholden
nigelholden

wow, wrong thread.  how embarrassing.   Damn you multiple tags!

Cognus
Cognus

F2 was cool, but for me not as good as F1

PotHeel
PotHeel

 @Alves_19 That is simply a matter of opinion. I personnaly thoroughly enjoyed the Fable series, although I lked Fable 3 the least.